Weekend Backpacker San Francisco
Just south of the Monterey peninsula, the Ventana Wilderness is draped across the Santa Lucia mountain range on the central California coast. Covering 167,323 acres of the Los Padres National Forest, the wilderness area is characterized by steep slopes and high canyons. Because of this, climate and vegetation can differ radically over short distances. Walking along a north-facing slope, you are wrapped in the cool shade of big-leaf maple and coastal redwoods. Cross a creek and climb for a half mile: You're in dry, desert-like chaparral.
Weekend loops are tricky in the Ventana Wilderness. They're possible, but often involve road hiking. It may be best to hike in and retrace your steps back.
Sykes Camp via the Pine Ridge Trail: Sykes Camp is roughly 10 miles from Big Sur Station and has a number of campsites. It is also, with some bushwhacking, home to some fine (if a little overrated) hot springs. From Big Sur Station parking lot take the Pine Ridge Trail down through the southern tip of PfeifferBig Sur State Park. The trail then climbs up a slope through wildflowers and into a forest of coast live oak, madrone, and manzanita. More or less following a contour line along this ridge for several miles, the trail then winds past three camps (Ventana, Terrace Creek, and Barlow Flat) on the way to Sykes Camp. It may seem excessive to have four camping areas over ten miles, but it's not. All these sites see plenty of traffic in the summer, especially on the weekend.
Note: Sykes Hot Springs are downstream from the trail and involve some bushwhacking to get there. Get accurate directions from rangers or other hikers.
Getting to Big Sur
From San Jose, take US 101 South to California 156. Follow CA 156 towards Castroville to California Coastal Highway 1. Follow 1 south past Monterey for about 25 miles, until you enter the town of Big Sur. Big Sur Station is on the east side of California 1.
Monterey Transit, (831) 899-2555. Note: Highway 1 is considered a hazard to buses.
Fire permit required, no charge. Apply at Big Sur Station or through National Forest Service. No other backpacking permits required. Overnight parking at trailhead does require a fee.
The Ventana Wilderness map, put out by the Los Padres National Forest, is currently being revised. The one available now was drawn up in 1986, and distances given seem quite inaccurate (or I'm getting old). Hiking the Big Sur Country: The Ventana Wilderness contains 25 accurate, two-color topo maps.
For More Information
GORP Ventana Wilderness
Big Sur Station
Big Sur, CA 93920
Los Padres National Forest
Monterey Ranger District
406 South Mildred
King City, CA 93930
Ventana Wilderness Alliance
Editor's Note: Recent fires may have affected access and camping. Contact Big Sur Station or Monterey Ranger District for current information.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication